Writing on spec

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL AUGUST QUESTION: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

MY ANSWER: As a reader, I have several pet peeves. One of them is probably the strongest: I dislike cliff-hangers in the end of the books. When I open a book, I expect the story to be contained inside its covers. When it isn’t, when the story stops in mid-stride on the last page, it is either the writer hasn’t done her job properly, or the marketeers prevailed because they think the cliff-hangers will sell the next novel. In my case, it is not true. I usually stop reading the series if I stumble on a cliff-hanger. I’m so resentful of the author for ignoring my expectations and not finishing the story, I don’t want to read her next book.
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I had an interesting experience lately. I sent a short story to a sci-fi anthology. Got a rejection – nothing strange about that – but the rejection itself was worded as an invitation. The editor of the anthology said that they couldn’t use my story but he would like me to write a new story specifically for their anthology. The detailed descriptions of what they wanted – the world and the possible situations they wanted to explore – were attached to the email.

I tried. I really did, but nothing in their suggested world or story ideas appealed to me. I couldn’t write what he wanted, couldn’t come up with an appropriate character, so I sent a polite ‘No’ a couple days later.

The entire experience upset me. As a journalist, I routinely write on spec. All my articles comply with my newspaper’s mandate, style, and word count. I also recently wrote a fan-fiction story, using another writer’s world, although the events and the characters in that story were my own. I put the story, Five Days of Elf, on Wattpad, and it’s steadily gathering readers.

But aside from that one story, I’ve always had trouble writing fiction on spec. A few times one of my stories was included in an anthology were if I already had a story, and it fit the anthology theme perfectly or with minor alterations.

Why couldn’t I write a new story from scratch to this editor’s anthology specs? Why can’t I write fiction on spec in general? Am I not professional enough? The world the editor came up with was fascinating, and the situations fraught with all sorts of conflict. Why was this challenge so hard for me?

Can you write fiction on spec? How often do you do it? What is the best approach, in your opinion? Tell me in the comments.

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21 Responses to Writing on spec

  1. Creating a whole story is different than writing an article on something that already exists. Don’t knock yourself too hard. I probably couldn’t have done it either.

  2. I often think this is why I wouldn’t like to be a freelance writer because you are asked to write about things you may have no interest in writing about. I think you are talking about what inspires you and it is hard to write for something that does not inspire you. Journalism is a bit different because you may be reporting on a story, something that happened. I struggle with writing prompts that don’t inspire me too.

  3. Juneta says:

    Wow, I think tho rejected that was a real positive and encouraging about your writing. Maybe in this instant, you could not use what they wanted but they thought you good enough to ask you to try. That is awesome. Congratulations. Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  4. Wow, I think tho rejected that was a real positive and encouraging about your writing. Maybe in this instant, you could not use what they wanted but they thought you good enough to ask you to try. That is awesome. Congratulations. Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  5. Sorry about the duplicate. Did not show up thought my WP was acting up again with commenting.

  6. Loni Townsend says:

    Woot for the invitation!

    It’s always been my mindset that I’ve got too much of my own story to write that I don’t want to divert from that to write someone else’s. That being said, though, I have done it. Three of the short stories I have in anthologies are theme-based. But it really depends on if a story pops into my mind or not.

  7. I can’t even begin to imagine writing fiction on spec. That would be a tough ask. But what a nice “rejection” to be invited to submit another story.

  8. I’m with you on the cliff hangers. Total turn off to the series. Now if it’s the second book in the series, okay. That makes sense. But the first? No way.

    I have written things on spec, but only if the parameters are loose enough. We all have our own take on ideas, and if there’s not enough freedom, it kills the creative beast. I wouldn’t stress about it.

  9. I’m not sure if this is considered “on spec” but I love when a magazine or anthology has a theme or a contest, and I have to create something to fit in order to sub. I find it stretches my creative muscle and forces me to think differently. I don’t aways come up with something though but it’s not usually for lack of trying. Sometimes things just don’t click or come together.

  10. ChrysFey says:

    I think it’s okay that you couldn’t write the story they wanted. We have to want to write it and feel a connection for it to work. We need creative freedom, too. Being told everything they want to happen and the types of characters they want in it makes it their story, not yours. That would be tough for creative mind to get past.

  11. Hi, Olga,

    I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it. It happens… What I do is immerse myself in the WORLD… I guess is a knack I have because of my talent for blurbs and intros. Just give me the basics and I can come up with the rest. I never really thought that this “gift” was a special one. But it does have a place in the publishing world.

    As for my own writing… LOL … nothing published as of yet, but at least there is interest thanks to the IWSG twitter pitch. We’ll just have to see where it takes me.

    Hang in there and stop worrying about it.

  12. Erika Beebe says:

    Hi Olga. I am on board with your reading pet peeve. I do not like cliff hanger endings either. Especially if you love the author and have been waiting for the book to come out so you buy it right away … and have to wait. I don’t blame you for not writing to the specs. I think I would have felt more anxiety over making it perfect it wouldn’t have been. I know though, you will have many more brilliant stories to come 🙂

  13. Yep, same wave length! 🙂
    As for writing on spec, not sure I could either. Maybe they gave you too much information?

  14. Carrie-Anne says:

    Not everyone can write a story for an anthology or series with someone else’s rules. The temptation to write in one’s own style can be too great. I’ve thought about creating a story for the 1Night Stand series, for example, but amn’t really sure I could abide by all the pre-existing rules of this series and its jumping-off point of Madame Eve’s dating service.

    I also hate cliffhanger endings setting things up for the next book. Jillian Larkin’s Flapper trilogy did this, and it was so annoying. It’s one thing if it’s a series of books where one is meant to lead into the other, without much time between each, but not if there’s a year or more to wait!

  15. spunkonastick says:

    Writing to spec is a challenge, especially on such short notice.

  16. That’s great about the invitation, and I completely understand the feeling of not being able to write a certain story. Creativity is weird that way.

  17. Writing to spec can, in it’s own way, inhibit creativity… probably also depends on the parameters of the project as well as the due date.
    Don’t worry about it. You are such an excellent writer, anyway.

  18. Donna Hole says:

    ok, I’ve tried three times now to submit a comment.

    I prefer writing to specific prompts. I need to find some anthologies to submit to. Might help me get back into writing.

  19. Lisa Wilton says:

    I don’t think I could really write a fiction piece on spec. I don’t know. I think I’d be always trying to change it to fit my version, lol.

  20. Misha says:

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for you, but to me, the thought of writing on spec is impossible, because I have a certain expectation when it comes to the quality of my writing. And I just can’t reach that expectation writing something I’m not passionate about. And if I have to be told to write it, I’m not passionate about it.

  21. Nick Wilford says:

    I do agree that every part of a series should offer a complete story, although of course there can be things you’ll want to find out more about. Can’t say I’ve ever written on spec. I like prompts but they still allow room to create your own characters.

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